Saturday, June 25, 2022

‘Right Worshipful bourbon’

    

Not to be outpaced by the scotches, gins, beers, and other potable products sponsored by various grand lodges and brethren here and there, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania now has a locally distilled bourbon for sale under its name. Pennsylvania Grand Master’s Blend, a “Pennsylvania Craft Straight Bourbon Whiskey,” is produced by Hidden Still Spirits in Hershey.

Yes, it is possible to purchase online ($42/bottle) and have it shipped to you. I don’t know the volume (750ml?) of the package. Hidden Still also serves as a restaurant, and its spirits can be found in stores in the state.

A poke around the web shows this idea has been in development at Hidden Still for several years. And, yes, there are Pennsylvania brethren in Hidden Still Spirits.

Is it any good? I’ll have to get back to you on that. I don’t doubt this will be found in the mix in the hospitality suites of various Masonic hotel stays.
     

Friday, June 24, 2022

‘St. John’s Day planet alignment’

    
New York Post of June 8.

I’ve been watching the skies in recent weeks, enjoying the visibility of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter, which is remarkable given the light pollution around here. I didn’t know an alignment was in the offing, but today I read how in fact six of our nearest celestial neighbors presented themselves linearly today, St. John’s Day.

Read all about it at space.com.

Despite the Second Degree’s encouragement to study astronomy, I don’t know what this means.

Maybe I’ll play the lottery.
     

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

‘For the Freemason who has everything’

    

What to give the Brother Mason who has everything? How about a reproduction lodge membership patent signed by none other than Benjamin Franklin? Or perhaps your lodge would want to display it? Or your Masonic museum?


Franklin added his autograph in 1785 in his capacity as Venerable Master of La Loge des Neuf Soeurs in Paris. Speaking of museums, those 
“Nine Sisters” are the Muses of Greek mythology.

The original membership patent was presented to Bro. Claude-Jacques Notte, an artist. Sorry to say I’ve never heard of him, nor does there seem to be any biographical information on the web, but he must have been plugged into the arts and sciences world of Enlightenment Paris that characterized La Loge des Neuf Soeurs. He seems to be remembered for a portrait of John Paul Jones.

Accompanying the reproduction document is an explanatory booklet penned by Pierre Mollier—a Brother Mason we do know, by reputation if not personally. He is a Masonic scholar and author whose latest book, Masonic Myths and Legends, was published this spring by Westphalia Press. He is the director of the Grand Orient of France’s Museum of Freemasonry in Paris. (Remember Neuf Soeurs was a G.O. lodge.)

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it regardless: I’m only sharing news of this commerce, and I have no connection to the seller or to any transaction.
     

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

‘Remembering Daniel D. Tompkins’

    
Daniel D. Tompkins

On this date in 1774 was born a great, if historically overlooked, American man and Mason: Daniel D. Tompkins. Biographical highlights include being made a Freemason at Hiram Lodge 72 in Westchester County (later affiliating with Salem 74); serving as Grand Secretary of our Grand Lodge; and becoming the first Sovereign Grand Commander of the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction. Oh, and he was governor of New York (1807-17) before becoming the sixth vice president of these United States (1817-25). He died June 11, 1825 and was buried in Manhattan.

While George Washington is credited for transcribing a seventeenth century book of ethics into his personal journal as a boy, Daniel Tompkins composed a series of philosophical essays while a student at Columbia College. He addressed moral quandaries that impacted American life at the close of the 1700s, from slavery to capital punishment to how best to select government officials. He also expounded on matters of personal growth: education, honesty, prejudice. These essays, some of them fragmentary because of the vicissitudes of time, were anthologized for a book published by Columbia University in 1940 under the title A Columbia College Student in the Eighteenth Century. (The originals are found in the State Library in Albany.)


Of course this is long out of print—I can’t imagine a student at Columbia today even picking up this book with a pair of tongs—so I share brief excerpts here to remember how serious a young mind can be. Daniel Tompkins was a credit to our nation and to our gentle Craft. (I leave it to you to read of how he came to die tragically.)


The only criterion I know of by which to judge of the expediency of electing a man that has filled a station is to inspect into his former conduct. Has his aim hitherto been the good of the people? We may then reason from analogy that such will be his conduct hereafter. In fine so long as the people hold in their hands the chastening rod, the freedom of frequent elections [and] the right of making a change, we need not fear but that the officer will endeavor to secure the happiness and liberty of his constituents.

On Choosing Public Officials, 1792.


’Tis true that many valuable authors have written in the dead languages but I doubt whether there are not equally celebrated ones in the English and French languages and equally valuable…. If four or five years of Virgil’s early life had been spent in the study of languages other than his own, we should not have been favored with such excellent poetry from him so early as his twenty-fourth year.

On the Study of Dead Languages, 1792.


Happy for America that she has been successful in her struggle for Liberty, but unhappy that she has not fully completed her design although it was in her power to have done it. It would seem that the inhabitants of this Country have not that innate love for Liberty which many of them profess; otherwise we should not behold our fellow creatures in Slavery when it is in our power to relieve them. Liberty naturally fits and qualifies us for improvement in knowledge and knowledge allures us to, and gives us a relish for “the ineffable delights of sweet humanity.” Among those who are free and enlightened, if one man promote the happiness of another, his own delight is increased in the same ratio; and no man can enjoy real felicity whilst he beholds others miserable.

On Slavery 1, 1793.


In short if we look into the world, we shall find few men utterly free from prejudice of one kind or another. Local attachments, habit and the like frequently beget and nourish prejudice. I know many who are of this and the other profession in Religion and [profess] a substantial reason for it too, to wit, that their fathers before them were of the same profession. Yet subject as we all are, to be duped by Prejudice, the least appearance of it in others excites our disgust. When we find the historian swayed by prejudice in the relation of facts all our pleasure of reading him is diminished.

On Prejudice, 1794.


In society, every member is bound by the most sacred ties to preserve Harmony and the Tranquility of all the community. This consideration sufficiently evinces the perniciousness of Dishonesty. Besides whatever success Knavery may find for once, it will find it difficult to succeed a second time, for one imposition places all on their guard, and affixes a mark of infamy, which causes the person to be universally shunned. Prodigality generally accompanies dishonesty; and soon consumes what an act of Knavery has acquired. He is therefore reduced to the necessity of having recourse a second time to dishonesty. But as I said before, he will find all prepared for his attack—and even tho’ he should find it necessary to deal for once with probity, he will find none to negotiate with him. For when the wind blows from one quarter we commonly expect it to continue there for sometime.

On Dishonesty and Extreme Indulgence, 1794.


In short, whether Law, Divinity or Physic be your aim—whether Agriculture or Trade is to be made a science, there may you lay the foundation to advantage. Go on then students of Columbia, with eminence and glory in your view. In this land of liberty and peace, genius may extend her wings, unshackled by the restraints of arbitrary power. And real fame, true and lasting honor, belong only to the virtuous and the good. With tender wishes for your prosperity and happiness, we bid you…be virtuous! Be happy.

Valedictory Oration, May 6, 1795.
     

Monday, June 20, 2022

‘AMD Ingathering in NYC’

    

I was trying to limit summertime Masonic activities to just Warren Lodge’s festive board until news of this singular occurrence broke. The brethren of the Allied Masonic Degrees in New York City will host an Ingathering next month! Register here.
     

Sunday, June 19, 2022

‘This day of all days’

   
GWMNM photo

The nineteenth of June in the United States is known as Juneteenth, the commemoration of the emancipation of slaves finally brought to fruition in 1865. Last night, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Virginia was alit in colors of the Pan-African flag in tribute. Here’s why that’s wrong, even though benevolently inspirited.

Juneteenth is an American holiday that represents victory in the cataclysmic war that ended slavery here. (Slavery persists in Africa today, but no one is supposed to discuss it.) Americans suffered deaths and disfigurements in numbers that wouldn’t be seen again until the Second World War, and not seen again since. It had to be fought and won. The Civil War was existential. The colors displayed on the Washington Masonic Memorial, and anywhere else, for Juneteenth ought to be red, white, and blue. There is no reason why a Masonic landmark in this country should participate in supplanting America’s traditional universal symbols with those of divisional or otherwise limited identities. Don’t we get enough of that everywhere else?

Get with it, Memorial peeps! “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I leave you with this poem by a Brother Mason from the nineteenth century. This was composed in 1890, when the poet was eighteen years old.


Emancipation
Paul Laurence Dunbar

Fling out your banners, your honors be bringing,
Raise to the ether your paeans of praise.
Strike every chord and let music be ringing!
Celebrate freely this day of all days.

Few are the years since that notable blessing,
Raised you from slaves to the powers of men.
Each year has seen you my brothers progressing,
Never to sink to that level again.

Perched on your shoulders sits Liberty smiling,
Perched where the eyes of the nations can see.
Keep from her pinions all contact defiling;
Show by your deeds what you’re destined to be.

Press boldly forward nor waver, nor falter.
Blood has been freely poured out in your cause,
Lives sacrificed upon Liberty’s altar.
Press to the front, it were craven to pause.

Look to the heights that are worth your attaining.
Keep your feet firm in the path to the goal.
Toward noble deeds every effort be straining.
Worthy ambition is food for the soul!

Up! Men and brothers, be noble, be earnest!
Ripe is the time and success is assured;
Know that your fate was the hardest and sternest
When through those lash-ringing days you endured.

Never again shall the manacles gall you.
Never again shall the whip stroke defame!
Nobles and Freemen, your destinies call you
Onward to honor, to glory and fame.
     

Friday, June 17, 2022

‘Rosicrucians: Who and What?’

    
Dr. Christopher McIntosh, the scholar whose books on Rosicrucianism Rosicrucians should be reading, is scheduled to give a talk next month online. The Rosicrucians: Who and What Are They? will be hosted Thursday, July 21 at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. Tickets, starting at seven dollars, are available here. From the publicity:


In the early seventeenth century, some mysterious writings burst like a firework over Europe. They told of a German seeker called Christian Rosenkreuz, his journey through the Middle East in search of wisdom, and his creation of the esoteric Rosicrucian Fraternity. Since then, the Rosicrucian vision has been kept alive by many different groups and organizations from Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy to the British magical Order of the Golden Dawn.

In this talk, Christopher McIntosh, author of two books on the Rosicrucians, will explore this movement and its many-faceted impact. Hosting is the Viktor Wynd Museum & The Last Tuesday Society.

The Last Tuesday Society is a pataphysical organization founded by William James at Harvard in the 1870s, currently headquartered at the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art, and UnNatural History in London. For the last twenty years we have put on lectures, balls, workshops, master classes, séances, expeditions to Papua New Guinea and west Africa, all from our East London museum and its infamous cocktail bar.

Dr. Christopher McIntosh is the rara avis, a scholar who is also a fiction writer, an artist, a romantic dreamer, and a connoisseur of the bizzarre and the otherworldly. He was born in England and grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. He studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford, and German at London University, later returning to Oxford to take a doctorate in history with a dissertation on the eighteenth century Rosicrucian revival. He also has a diploma in Russian from the United Nations Language School from his time in New York as an information officer with the UN Development Program. As a writer, he has specialized in the esoteric traditions.

His books include The Astrologers and Their Creed (1969); Eliphas Levi and the French Occult Revival (1972); The Rosicrucians (latest edition 1997); The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason (1992), based on his doctorate of philosophy dissertation; The Swan King: Ludwig II of Bavaria (latest edition 2003); and Guardians of the Gods (2005). With his wife, Dr. Donate McIntosh, he produced a new translation of the Rosicrucian Fama Fraternitatis (2014).
     

Thursday, June 16, 2022

‘Our Stations and Places’

    
Sure, the First Manhattan District has the eldest lodges, and the Tenth Manhattan has the exotic lodges, and the Ninth has all the lager and schnitzel, but the Glorious Fourth Manhattan has the Book Club!

Its next meeting via Zoom is scheduled for Wednesday, July 27 at 8 p.m. Master Masons only. Contact the Square Club for login information.

It’s a classic but not very old (1938) text this time: Our Stations and Places by Henry G. Meacham, which he dedicates to “the Seekers of Light and the souls with a hunger to grow.” As you might infer from its title, this book is a guide for lodge officers. (Seems to me to be a trusted source on the Craft in the eyes of religious kook anti-Masons—so you know it has to be good! And, humorously enough, the book includes an appendix titled “Why Freemasonry Has Enemies.”)

Updated by Michael Poll for Cornerstone Book Publishers in 2019, Our Stations and Places is available from that publishing house and your preferred online retailer, or via Grand Lodge Services. Expect to pay around $17.


Meacham was Grand Lecturer of our Grand Lodge eighty or so years ago, and Grand Lodge published the book.

My congratulations to the Book Club for selecting a title that has practical value to the Masonic reader. With our lodge installations upon us, Our Stations and Places provides idiomatic New York lodge and Grand Lodge understandings for new and advancing lodge officers. Some of the ideas sound dated, but that’s okay.
     

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

‘Bill Paul Horn Medal 2022’

    
Masonic Society President Oscar Alleyne, doing what he does best, at the lectern Monday at the Grand Lodge of Washington’s communication. Cameron Bailey photo.

I don’t know if Oscar’s home has a mantel, but if it does, I choose to envision it laden with all kinds of awards. His latest from the world of Freemasonry is the Grand Lodge of Washington’s Bill Paul Horn Memorial Masonic Medal. Congratulations, Oscar!

The honor is named for a past grand master of the Grand Lodge of Washington, but it is not necessary to be a Washington Mason to receive it. Oscar is from New York. Past honorees include Ernest Borgnine, Bob Davis, Matt Dupee, Dick Fletcher, Tom Jackson, Joe Manning, Ron Seale, and Aaron Shoemaker.

Please don’t ask me to recapitulate all of Oscar’s accomplishments in Freemasonry, but of course he is President of the Masonic Society, which says it all.
     

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

‘A busy 24 hours!’

    
Bro. Barry Holsten of Flying Fish Brewing.

As you know, the Twenty-Four-Inch Gauge divides a day into equal periods for three essential needs, but did you ever squeeze three Masonic meetings into twenty-four hours?

That was my weekend. (It’s an improvement over how my life looked a couple of decades ago, when, every quarter, I’d have six Masonic functions between Thursday and the following Tuesday nights. No more of that, thank you.) But last Friday, there was an urgent assembly of my Cryptic Rite council, followed by the research lodge the next morning, and my AMD council that evening. Two of the three were satisfying events, so I can’t complain.

The rough spot was the bimonthly meeting of Scott Council 1 of Royal and Select Masters. I probably should have moved my York Rite memberships to New York by now, but I guess I’m sentimental—or some kind of mental. We learned days earlier that our Grand Council expects all ten of the local councils to reorganize and become just four councils. While I don’t doubt some of the Cryptic councils in our jurisdiction are truly dysfunctional and would be wise to amalgamate with a healthier group, I don’t think that’s necessary for Scott—unless, I suppose, we’re considered the stronger party. But what seems to be happening is the Grand Council wants Scott 1, Gebal 3, and Adoniram 9 to form a new Cryptic council, working out the details among ourselves. From what I’m hearing, Gebal wants nothing to do with it, while Adoniram proffered a “draft” of a consolidation plan that in reality looks like a proposal of some permanence.

I hope Scott rejects the idea. I realize not everything is perfect in the Secret Vault, but I’m not sure things at Scott are so dire that a “suggested” consolidation costing us our identity, meeting time/place, etc. is justifiable. We’re only 162 years old!

I also was unhappy to learn how the three-man delegations from each of our councils were most inappropriately staffed with dual members. The teams from both Gebal and Adoniram included members of Scott. I objected, and I think that’s been rectified already, but it makes one skeptical of the process. Also, these delegations are heavy with Grand Council officers, another potential conflict-of-interest red flag. Even worse—to my mind, at least—is the lack of transparency on the part of Grand Council. It disseminates a thirty-page monthly newsletter, but without a heads up about this consolidation plan? Great, thanks.

Bro. Alex Vastola is at labor in Yorktown-Diamond Thistle Lodge 555 in Tarrytown, New York. 

On a far happier note, New Jersey Lodge of Masonic Research and Education 1786 hosted its quarterly Regular Communication Saturday morning. We hosted Bro. Alexander Vastola, Director of The Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York. He presented a concise description of the institution’s history, goals, resources, and role in Masonic education. The Livingston Library is the envy of most grand lodges in the country, as only a few have exhibited the forethought and commitment to create such a monument to learning. More than 60,000 books and 40,000 artifacts! I’m proud to see The American Lodge of Research, my “other” research lodge, has become a partner with the Library on a few initiatives.

And finally, on Saturday night, it was time for a relaxed summertime (almost) gathering of J. William Gronning Council 83 of the Allied Masonic Degrees. We kept to the dining room and enjoyed an engrossing presentation on the art and science of beer brewing from one of our own: Bro. Barry Holsten, founder and proprietor of craft beer’s Flying Fish Brewing Co. Naturally he augmented his talk with samples of four of his products. Temperance was maintained at all times and a great evening was enjoyed by all.


Now I’m “off” for the next two weeks until The ALR meets on the 28th.
     

Friday, June 10, 2022

‘Moonlighting for 215 years’

    

Happy 215th anniversary to Warren Lodge 32!

On this date in 1807, Grand Lodge granted the petition of local Masons to charter the lodge at Pine Plains. Warren not only remains at labor, but it in fact is New York Freemasonry’s last “full moon lodge,” meaning the brethren convene their meetings by the light of the full moon. Give or take.

Warren Lodge 32

I know what you’re thinking: “There’s a lodge that doesn’t talk about the electric bill!” It’s just that instead of meeting on specific weeknights, Warren awaits maximum moonlight. Or thereabouts. It was the necessary custom for safe traveling generations ago for lodges to meet when the moon granted the most light. In modern times, they gather on the Thursday before the full moon.

Things will be a little different in August. That month, the full moon (called the Sturgeon Moon) will arrive on a Thursday night, but the lodge will meet during the weekend, on Saturday the 13th, when the brethren will host an outdoor Festive Board by lantern light. The flier has all the details, but to book your seats, email the Secretary here.

Click to enlarge.


     

Sunday, June 5, 2022

‘MythBusters: Newport 1658’

     
It had been so many years since I last encountered anyone repeating the “Jewish Masons in 1658 Rhode Island myth” that I was surprised to find it endorsed by a brother in a small Facebook group of Jewish Masons last Sunday morning, but there it was, cheerfully trumpeted as fact and with an encouraging “Google it!” to help the uninformed and skeptical see the light.

 

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, a rumor was hatched more than a century and a half ago claiming Jewish men from the Netherlands, who settled in Newport, Rhode Island, brought with them Masonic degrees, and set about conferring degrees on others in their community.

 

It’s nonsense. The circumstantial evidence that exists abundantly, and at your fingertips, convincingly dismisses it. Just because the motto of Rhode Island is “Hope” doesn’t mean we indulge wishful thinking in unpacking history.

 

Hope? Anchor? Sound familiar?

What exactly is this myth?

 

In 1853, the Rev. Edward Peterson published a book titled History of Rhode Island. I cannot find a copy of this book, but the relevant paragraph has been reproduced in diverse publications of Masonic groups, historical societies, scholars, etc., and those I’ve seen render this paragraph the same way. What I’ll offer here comes from The Jews and Masonry in the United States before 1810 by Samuel Oppenheim, printed in 1910 by the American Jewish Historical Society. Oppenheim (1857-1928) was not a Freemason, but was a renowned lawyer and noted researcher into the history of Jewish people in America from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Excerpted:

 

 

In the Spring of 1658, Mordecai Campannall, Moses Peckekoe [Pacheco], Levi, and others, in all fifteen families, arrived at Newport from Holland. They brought with them the three first degrees of Masonry, and worked them in the house of Campannall; and continued to do so, they and their successors, to the year 1742.

 

 

This nonsense has been cited as proof that this group introduced what we call Freemasonry to the New World. Alas, there are several red flags frantically waving at us.

 

Who: Jewish emigres from Holland. I don’t know how it is possible that Jewish Dutchmen possessed the secrets of the Craft. Why not? Well, who exactly were the Freemasons in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century who could have imparted Masonic knowledge to the globe-trotting Campannall? I’ve never heard of Masonic lodges or individual Masons being present in the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. As far as I know, Freemasonry first appeared in the Netherlands at about the same time as it first appeared in America: the early 1730s. And it came to the Netherlands from the same source: the Grand Lodge of England.


Daniel Coxe by Travis Simpkins
(It was on this very date—June 5—in 1730 that the Grand Lodge of England issued a deputation to Bro. Daniel Coxe, authorizing him to bring Freemasonry to, and organize Freemasonry in, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, making Coxe the first Provincial Grand Master in the Americas.)

 

What: “The three first degrees of Masonry.” Here, the good reverend is making trouble for himself by creating this anachronism. I’ll return to this later.

 

When: 1658. We know the seventeenth century was the era of the Accepted Mason. Scottish records show that had begun by the 1590s. (Click here.) The building of castles, cathedrals, fortifications, and other stone structures had ceased, and lodges of stone masons began to admit to their ranks men of social (and political, financial, etc.) standing who had no connection to the building arts. Elias Ashmole (1617-92) was neither the first nor the only such Freemason, but he is the best known today, having been initiated by a group of gentlemen Masons on October 16, 1646 that met in the home of one of their number in Warrington, England. That is a historical fact to which we attribute our knowledge of men during the pre-grand lodge era being admitted to lodges despite having no experience in stonework or in architecture. In short, this opportunity to become a Mason was available to men who had clout. Ashmole was a prominent ally of King Charles II, a founding Fellow of the Royal Society, a lawyer, a government official, and the founder of Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum. It seems to me little is known about the Jewish men from Holland who allegedly brought Freemasonry to the New World, but I don’t see them having power comparable to that of Ashmole’s in basically the same time period.

 

Elias Ashmole

Where:
Newport, Rhode Island. Newport? Yes, Newport. What lends a veneer of plausibility to the myth is the documented historical fact that Jews from the Netherlands, or with other connections to that nation, did arrive in Newport in the 1650s. These people were refugees seeking a place to live in safety. They didn’t go to New Netherland (today’s Manhattan) where the Director General, Peter Stuyvesant, made it known that Jews were unwelcome. They had to go elsewhere to find a place where they could live in peace. Long story short: Their ancestors fled Spain and Portugal for their lives; arrived in the Netherlands, which already had a reputation for religious tolerance; and then they traveled to South America and the Caribbean, resulting in our Jewish emigres eventually arriving in Rhode Island, another haven for religious minorities, in the 1650s. It is a documented historical fact that the aforementioned Mordecai Campannall and Moses Pacheco figured centrally in this Jewish settlement in early America. I leave it to you to research that.

 

Why: The “Why?” always is the most telling factor in an investigation, and I’m sorry to say we’ll never know exactly why Rev. Peterson factored this fictional Masonic angle into his history book. We do know that he cited an early source of his misinformation. Before we content ourselves with the knowledge that Peterson seemingly did not invent the Masonic story, and that he had cited an allegedly existing record proving his Masonic claim outright, let’s look at this primary source.

 

Peterson said his source was Bro. N.H. Gould, who was Worshipful Master of St. John’s Lodge in Newport, was a member of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island, and was a Thirty-Third Degree Mason in the Scottish Rite. And here is where the story simultaneously gets interesting and silly. To be fair—and that’s important—we must understand that history, as a field of study, differs greatly today from how it was approached before the twentieth century. Today we expect research that separates the provable from the improbable, but our ancestors beyond recent generations accepted histories bequeathed from the past without a lot of questions. The Bible, the Classics, and other sources—even the Shakespeare folio—comprised the bases of historical knowledge because they had passed the test of time. They were what people knew. Read the history section of James Anderson’s The Constitutions of the Freemasons of 1723 and you’ll see what I mean. It’s ridiculous, but it is exemplary of how people understood history centuries ago.

 

The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts’ 1870 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge, includes a section on histories of Freemasonry in its and in other states, written by MW William S. Gardner, Grand Master. Under the heading “Masonry in Rhode Island,” he writes:

 

Br. J.L. Gould, of Connecticut, published, in 1868, at New York, a manual entitled Guide to Chapter, in which this statement is contained:

 

 

The earliest account of the introduction of Masonry into the United States is the history of a Lodge organized in Rhode Island A.D. 1658, or fifty-nine years before the revival in England, and seventy-five years before the establishment of the first Lodge in Massachusetts. The author states that ‘The Reverend Edward Peterson, in his History of Rhode Island and Newport in the Past, gives the following account of this early Lodge:

 

‘In the spring of 1658, Mordecai Campannall, Moses Peckeckon, Levi, and others, in all fifteen families, arrived at Newport from Holland. They brought with them the three first degrees of Masonry, and worked them in the house of Campannall; and continued to do so, they and their successors, to the year 1742.’

 

This assertion of Br. J.L. Gould, supported by the extract above made from the Rev. Edward Peterson’s History, has attracted attention in England, and has already been examined by the critical pen of W. Br. William James Hughan. Feeling deeply interested in every thing relating to Masonic history in New England, as soon as any attention was called to this claim of antiquity I procured a copy of the Rev. Edward Peterson’s History. On page 101, edition of 1858, appears the above extract in totidem verbis, and, immediately following it, in italics, ‘Taken from documents now in possession of N.H. Gould, Esq.’

 

 

(I have no idea if N.H. Gould of Rhode Island, purported source of Rev. Peterson’s misinformation, was related to J.L. Gould of Connecticut, who authored that Guide to Chapter book which planted the myth into the Masonic consciousness.)

 

Grand Master Gardner’s report continues at length and in detail. Honestly, I’m not willing to transcribe it fully here. Instead, please click here and see Page 357 (an easy-to-remember page number!) to read it entirely. To untwist a complicated story, I’ll summarize in points:

 

MW Gardiner wrote to Bro. N.H. Gould and others in Rhode Island in search of the conclusive origin of the story of Jewish immigrants bringing Freemasonry to Newport in 1658. It took nearly a year for Gould to write back, but he described how he and Rev. Peterson “studied out” an originative document behind this claim.

 


This document, said Bro. Gould, had been among the possessions of the late Hannah Hall, “a distant relative” of Gould and the great, great, granddaughter of John Wanton, who had been governor of the Rhode Island colony from 1734 to 1740. The paper was among a trove of letters and such found inside a dilapidated trunk. Due to the age and the poor storage of the paper in question, it was damaged and illegible in places, but its text allegedly read:

 

 

Ths ye [day and month obliterated] 1656 or 8 [not certain which, as the place was stained and broken; the three first figures were plain] Wee mett att y House off Mordecai Campanall and affter Synagog Wee gave Abm Moses the degrees of Maconrie.

 

 

And here, again, is Rev. Peterson’s take:

 

 

In the Spring of 1658, Mordecai Campannall, Moses Peckekoe [Pacheco], Levi, and others, in all fifteen families, arrived at Newport from Holland. They brought with them the three first degrees of Masonry, and worked them in the house of Campannall; and continued to do so, they and their successors, to the year 1742.

 

 

So now you are wondering where Peterson found the “three first degrees” detail, as well as the mention of 1742. I think that he, armed with some knowledge of the Freemasonry of his own time, simply added those details, assuming they could be backdated. We know there weren’t three or more degrees in Masonry in the seventeenth century. The specific talk of 1742 is vexing. I cannot find anything that might fit that reference. The aforementioned St. John’s Lodge, the first in the colony, dates to St. John Evangelist Day 1749.

 

Gould goes on to explain:

 

 

By the foregoing you will see that the document spoken of by the Rev. Edward Peterson was in a very tender state: broken and as brittle as those very old papers, exposed as it had been exposed, to alternate wet and heat. After a time it became so broken that I could not have it even daguerreotyped, as, at that time, photography was not practiced in our city, but what there is of it was nicely enveloped and packed away, with some of my papers in my house, securely, but not where I can, at present, put my hand upon it, but hope, with God’s blessing, to be able to again get my library together in their cases, and many papers assorted, when it will be, or what may be left of it, visible.

 

 

I say what we have here is, simply, a canard. This alleged source document that puts Masonic activity in Newport, Rhode Island in 1658 not only cannot be scrutinized by us—even in some facsimile—but it doesn’t appear to have been seen by anyone contemporaneous who possibly could avouch it. In our twenty-first century expectations of historical analysis, this fails any reasonable standard. That is mostly why I call the myth nonsense, but there’s more, which I’ll come to.

 

Writing in his History of Freemasonry in Rhode Island, published 1895 for the 1891 centenary of the Grand Lodge of Rhode Island, Grand Historian Henry W. Rugg opines: “Evidently no great reliance could be given to such a scrap of paper even were its genuineness assured. It lacks the support of corroborative evidence.” (I think Rugg puts it so politely because he was a Doctor of Divinity.)

 

Massachusetts Grand Master Gardner also had written to Rhode Island Grand Master Thomas Doyle, who replied:

 

 

As to the statement, in Peterson’s History of Rhode Island, that Masonry was worked in this State from 1658 to 1742, I can only say that, from the best information I can obtain in regard to that history, the statement is not to be taken as a fact, unless supported by other reliable testimony. What he has said about Masonry is, I understand, asserted upon the authority of documents in the possession of W. Br. N.H. Gould. I have made many enquiries about these documents of brethren in Newport, members of the Grand Lodge and others, and do not find that any one has even seen them, neither do the brethren believe that any proof exists of the truth of Peterson’s statement.

 

 

So why didn’t I just make that point from the start and spare you all this reading? Because I get paid by the word. Seriously though, if you’ve read this far then maybe you’ll agree that it is important to respect history by not co-mingling untruth and distortion with facts.

 

Those further complications I mentioned:

 

If you have made a study of what we know of seventeenth century and other pre-grand lodge era manuscripts, then you know how oaths of that time concluded with avowals to Jesus Christ. Masonry, as it existed then, was a Christian society. Anyone believing in this myth would have reconcile that, at the very least. The record of the first Jewish man to be made a Freemason places it in London during the 1720s. I regret not having the specifics of that to add here, but think Anderson’s First Charge.

 

In addition, there is the philology of it. I do not believe that a Sephardic Jew from the Netherlands would jot a note to self (or to someone else in his community) employing some kind of pre-Elizabethan English. “Wee mett att y House off Mordecai Campanall and affter Synagog Wee gave Abm Moses the degrees of Maconrie.” Maybe it could have worked out that way, but I don’t see it being likely. Being from the Netherlands, one might write in Dutch. Being Sephardic, one might write in Ladino. Being in 1658, one might be illiterate. In fairness, our Mr. Samuel Oppenheim, of the American Jewish Historical Society, disagrees. He says:

 

 

The period of composition of the document may be practically determined, independently of the date given in it, from the style of its orthography. In the doubling and raising of letters, in the unusual forms ‘Maconrie’ and ‘off’ for ‘of,’ and even in the apparently inconsistent variation in the manner of spelling ‘off’ and ‘ye’ in a single writing, the orthography is peculiarly of the seventeenth century and not of a later period and is thus confirmatory of genuineness. Its language and style of composition indicate a Jewish hand as the author.

 

 


Oppenheim strikes me as an impressive and serious man, but what he says here is very highly speculative, and I do not know what knowledge and experience he possessed in linguistics. And how does one assess an unknown writer’s religious views from a brief note?

 

And, returning to “the three first degrees of Masonry,” it is basic Introduction to Masonic History 101 that the Third Degree emerged during the 1720s. No one knows exactly when, or written by whom, but it emerged in London when the Grand Lodge began to take the shape we know today. Earlier records show a two-degree system of primitive rituals. Saying there were three degrees in 1658, and that they were the first three—implying there were others—is nonsense. For a look at what Masonic degrees looked like circa 1730, see the ritual exposure Masonry Dissected. The Masonic Book Club will reprint it this summer.

 


If you enjoy Masonic history, and think you’d want to examine and write about some aspect, it is important to research and not be content with one unattached statement found on a webpage. It’s never been easier than today to undertake a little inquiry, thanks to the multitude of online resources. For the more motivated researcher, visits to libraries, museums, historical sites, historical societies, the occasional cemetery, and other destinations are necessary, but without leaving my chair I was able to present this humble edition of The Magpie Mason. My thanks to Bro. Jerry for the inspiration.

 

Jewish Freemasons have much for which to be thankful and in which to feel pride, even in the specific context of Newport: There is the obscure, but real, history of King David’s Lodge which settled there after removing from New York in the eighteenth century. And also, of course, the visit of President George Washington to the town, during which he engaged both the local synagogue and the Masonic lodge in correspondence. (Read about that here.) There is no need to diminish real history by mixing in unsubstantiated and illogical tales.